If you want to compete in business, you need to pay attention to online reviews. Period.  Studies show that up to 91 percent of people regularly explore feedback from previous customers and consult online reviews before making a purchase. In the future, experts project that number will increase to 97 percent of consumers.

But utilizing online reviews to your advantage requires some know-how. Here are five best practices to help you master the online review platform.

1. Nobody’s perfect.

It seems crazy, but it’s true. This isn’t a perfect world, and if you have perfect reviews, then people will think you are gaming the system. “Patients don’t want to take any chances when it comes to their health,” says Birdeye.com, a platform for customer feedback. “With such an overwhelming amount of information available at the tap of a button, they want sources they know they can trust.” That’s why reviews have quickly become one of the most valued online resources for patients seeking the best care.

“Having a few less-than-perfect reviews decreases a product’s average star rating, but grows the business more,” says Tom Collinger from Northwestern University’s research center. “As consumers, we’re all skeptical. It builds trust to see there are negative reviews because we all know there are crazies out there.”

2. Patients need trust.

Healthcare providers know that you simply cannot please everyone. Limitations in care or prescriptions often result in a nasty review from patients. While it’s tempting to bury negative reviews, handling that feedback objectively and publicly offers more benefits than drawbacks. “Eighty-four percent of customers trust online reviews as much as they would a personal recommendation, including the negative reviews,” says Collinger. This is an opportunity to respond to concerns, re-establish your goals as a healthcare provider, and improve your service. When you respond to a negative review with professionalism and empathy, then you build trust.

3. You need a good (online) bedside manner.

It may be hard seeing someone complain about your services online, but “there may be value to what the person has to say, and it’s in your best interest to acknowledge the complaint, take it seriously, and respond with sincerity and respect,” says Paul Chaney. A kind response to a negative review means you are in touch with the needs of your patients and are committed to providing the best service possible.

4. Online reviews will help you reach more people.

Society does everything online. “We shop on our phones, do product research, and ask peers on social media for their opinions. For 77 percent of patients, online reviews are the first step to finding a new doctor. And, a published survey found that “nearly half of respondents (47 percent) would go out-of-network for a doctor who has similar qualifications to an in-network doctor, but has more favorable reviews.”

5. Many high-quality reviews boost your service.

You want a lot of reviews. Studies show that a product with 50 or more reviews can result in a 4.6 percent conversion rate. So, don’t shy away from sharing both positive and negative reviews. Many times, a preponderance of positive reviews will counter the opinion expressed in a negative one.

Amy Osmond Cook

As they say, if you can’t beat them… welcome an online review platform and be part of the conversation. For healthcare providers, the online review forum is an exciting new frontier for promoting and expanding healthcare services.

Amy Osmond Cook

Dr. Amy Osmond Cook is executive director of the Association of Skilled Nursing Providers (ASNP). She received her Ph.D. from the University of Utah in Communication, and is a regular health and wellness contributor to the Orange County Register, Daily Herald, Senior Scene, Senior Housing Forum, and more. She’s also currently the host of Good Day Orange County, a local television program for Laguna Woods, a senior community with more than 18,000 residents. Her full profile is available on LinkedIn.

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